Ask most graphic designers how they would feel about creating a pixelated-looking image and they would look at you like you were on fire. In an industry where the higher the ‘pixels per inch’ ratio the better, blurry, undetailed images are very much the enemy. Or at least, they were: (re)introducing 8-bit design, a style inspired by the low-resolution computer graphics of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
A few famous examples of 8-bit design include the characters from the original Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Mario Bros video games, all of which have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years.
But wait a second – haven’t we made significant leaps in screen technology since the days of arcade games, enabling modern graphics to be many times sharper and more detailed than our overall-wearing friends Mario and Luigi? On paper, there is very little about 8-bit design to get excited about. And yet 8-bit is still undeniably cool.
My personal thoughts are that 8-bit is a response to our disillusionment with the increasingly lifelike graphics surrounding us on HD TVs, laptop, tablet and mobile phone screens; in fact, some of us are even revolting against such realism, making the very reasonable observation that we may not WANT to see every hair in the nose of our favourite celebrity as we watch their latest film (very distracting). Others complain that real-people films actually look ‘fake’ on their HD TV screens – a phenomena that has been named the ‘soap opera effect’. Anyone else see a paradox here?
Perhaps then, 8-bit as an art form harps back to simpler times; an era when getting your console to work involved first blowing dust out of the cartridge, not downloading release-day patches and endless system upgrades. A time when video games offered a little welcome escapism, not ‘immersive gameplay’ and ‘emergent character development’.
The real paradox is that today’s designers have to recreate the 8-bit look at modern screen resolutions, producing a generally higher quality version of this low quality style.
So if you are a brand looking for a retro (and therefore extremely modern) image overhall then consider trading in your slick graphics for something a little more rudimentary – and a lot more fun.